Umatilla County is driving toward reducing the number of vehicles it has and outsourcing the fleet management to cut costs.

County Commissioner John Shafer said the size of the fleet “kind of got my hackles up” after he came into office in January. Excluding the public works department and the sheriff’s office, he said, the county has 133 employees and 104 vehicles.

“That’s almost one per employee,” Shafer exclaimed. “That’s way too many.”

Some county cars in the parking lot across from the county courthouse in Pendleton have not turned a tire in months, he said. One department, for example, could have 10 cars with four in use, and another have the same situation, leaving 12 cars sitting around.

Meanwhile, the county is paying the fees and insurance on all of them.

In October 2018, the city of Hermiston contracted with Enterprise Fleet Management, sister company to the Enterprise car rental business, to lease vehicles. Robert Pahl, county chief finance officer, said he has been communicating with Enterprise Fleet Management and sees it could deliver significant benefits.

“We are not experts at managing fleets,” Pahl said.

Enterprise would be able to assess the number of vehicles the county really needs, Pahl and Shafer said, sell off the excess and monitor when to buy replacements.

Aside from any number of cars collecting dust, the county tends to sell vehicles when they are too old and worn, thus getting mere pennies on the dollar. Six years ago, the sheriff’s office implemented a more aggressive approach to buying new vehicles sooner rather than later. Pahl said that resulted in drastic declines in vehicle maintenance and fuel costs.

Enterprise would track mileage and age of vehicles, Pahl said, and sell vehicles after certain milestones, such as at the 50,000-mile mark rather than 150,000 miles. He also said Enterprise could sell the cars in larger markets to get a better price.

Shafer said the county still is looking at the cost-benefit of outsourcing and does not have hard numbers yet. Pahl stressed he does not want to lease vehicles because he has no interest in the county paying the interest on leases. Rather, the county would buy vehicles through Enterprise at prices comparable to what it pays now because the company has access to the same government vehicle sales as the county.

The public works department and the sheriff’s office would not be a part of this effort. Shafer said the sheriff’s office, his employer before winning the seat on the county board, is exploring leasing vehicles.

“What it boils down to is pursuit vehicles,” he said.

Pahl said the public works and road department has big pieces of equipment, such as dump trucks and excavators that are outside what Enterprise provides. Still, he said, the program someday could include the department’s heavy-duty pickups and such. Even so, the road department likely would benefit if Enterprise manages the fleet.

The road department receives funding from the state to work on roads, but the department also handles maintenance for county rigs and cars. That state money cannot pay for that work. County departments have to pay the road department for the work on their vehicles from oil changes to engine repairs.

Shafer said the Enterprise program would allow the county to take vehicles to any garage with the proper certification, which includes the county shops. He said that translates into freeing the road department crew to do road work rather than working on another department’s car. Shafer also said going with Enterprise would not reduce the number of county employees.

The county board plans to consider the proposal at its meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 15, at the courthouse. Shafer said he sees no hang-ups with this fellow commissioners adopting the proposal, but an approval would not mean fast change.

He and Pahl said this would be a slow roll out. Enterprise would have to determine what department fleets to trim first, maybe selling 10 or 12 cars at a time. Pahl estimated putting the program into place would take years.

That also would allow time for department heads and other employees to adjust to a change in the county’s vehicle culture.

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